Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Going To Harvard This Fall? Stick To Science & Math - Not Subjective Indoctrination Majors- Like Economics!

Harvard Astronomy Chair Avi Loeb making observations at the Harvard U. Observatory

WSJ op-ed columnist Peggy Noonan ('Kids, Don't Be Success Robots', March 16-17, p. A13)  was correct when she advised:

"My advice to students still considering college in the year 2019: Avoid elite universities if you can.  They're too often indoctrination mills anyway."

Well, let's amend that a bit. If you are lucky enough to have secured entry to Harvard this fall - say to study astronomy - you are doubly fortunate.  The reason is you will experience  actual inquiry over indoctrination.. Prof. Avi Loeb achieved some renown on the basis of his co-authored paper appearing in Astrophysical Journal Letters in November — thrilling E.T. enthusiasts and upsetting the  skeptical stuffed shirts and purists in the halls of space academia. In other words, upsetting those more indoctrinated than inclined to do actual open inquiry., which is what professional astronomy should be about.

 Recall in my post on Loeb's critics last month  I cited one popular astronomer - the late Carl Sagan - who actually expressed regrets (to Dr. J. Allen Hynek) he had not been more open about accepting the reality of UFOs.  Sagan had admitted to Hynek that he really did accept the validity of UFOs but "couldn't admit it in front of colleagues."  See e.g.

Such is the hallmark of genuine inquiry in that one can admit one is or was wrong, either in one's previous research or previous attitude to some object of inquiry.

Contrast Prof. Loeb with another Harvard prof, Martin Feldstein who - it can be argued - is more invested in indoctrinating his Ph.D. students with the codswallop of modern Pareto-based economics.  Recall, in Pareto economics "Pareto efficiency" rules and the  basic premise is that each dollar of a rich man is worth much more than that of a poor man. Hence, any transfer of money from rich to the poor hurts the rich man much more than any poor man.   

Such a template was invoked by Feldstein some years ago when he argued that ordinary folks ought to be paid money not get expensive medical screening tests, such as colonoscopies.  Indeed, Feldstein argued that given there is no way the ordinary patient could afford to pay out of his pocket for such a test (usually $3,500- 4,000) then it makes more sense to pay her to take a hike. To fix ideas: 

 If the insurance paid part is $3,000 (while the patient's reservation price is $2, 500) it makes more sense to give the prospective testee $2,499 NOT to get the colonoscopy, than to let her get the test and consume valuable specialist time and resources via $3,000 subsidy. 

(Note:  The reservation price for a given  product or service is just the maximum price a person is willing to pay. So, if I have a 1954 Henry Aaron TOPPS baseball card (now with a very high book price) and I offer it to you for sale, and ask what the top price is that you'd pay, if you respond "one hundred dollars" then that is your reservation price.)

The same scheme can be carried over to environmental considerations, especially say, in implementing global warming regulations or fuel taxes to alter behavior - say to cut carbon emissions. Since - according to Pareto economics -  the lives of all the poorer segments of the populace are worth less in terms of their dollar use (i.e. their "utils") then those like Feldstein would always argue to allow more of them to perish from climate-caused catastrophes than to cause harm to the rich.  The latter by exacting carbon costs which will upset the commodities and stock markets, and whole economies.

Now in his latest WSJ op-ed ('The Debt Crisis Is Coming Soon',  March 21, p. A19)  Feldstein continues his Pareto efficiency shtick as the be-all, end-all to the U.S. exploding debt problem. At the top of his hit list is, you guessed it, "entitlements", i.e.

"Thus the only option is to throw the brakes on entitlements.  In particular, the government needs to hold back the growth of Medicare, Medicaid  and Social Security."

Why does he argue thus? Well because of the metastasizing debt.   As Marty is wont to complain (ibid.):

"According to the Congressional Budget Office, the deficit this year will be $900 billion, more than 4 percent of gross domestic product.  It will surpass $1 trillion in 2022.  The federal debt is now 78 percent of GDP.  By  2028 it is projected to be nearly  100 percent of GDP."

But in fact, "part of the increase in the deficit was attributable to the shift in timing of certain payments, which made the deficit appear larger.  If not for those timing shifts the deficit would have risen only 25 %  from the same period in 2018." (WSJ ,   March 23-24, p. A4).

Apart from that, let's bear in mind the 2017 Trump- GOP tax cuts added nearly $1.5 trillion to the deficit by itself.  ("The tax code overhaul in 2017 had constrained federal revenues over the past year." - ibid.)   It was evident from the time this trash was passed the GOOPs would need to find ways to make up for the losses, so have focussed  on cutting Medicare ($845b in Trump's recent budget, and gutting the ACA - which would toss tens of millions off their health care.)

So how does Feldstein propose to deal with these entitlements? His plan emphasizes (ibid.):  "Raising the age of eligibility for full Social Security benefits from 67 to 70."  Here, Feldstein shows that - like Alan Greenspan - he's oblivious to the the fact  that a third of seniors have Social Security as their only income. Also, more than 50 percent of Americans claim their Social Security by age 62.  

Why are so many citizens doing this? It isn't always a case of not wanting to work but rather, for too many,  not being able to last at demanding physical jobs, i.e. landscaping, roof repair, nursing home aide,  etc.  It is fairly easy to work past 70 when it's all consulting, paper pushing or brain work.   But not so much when one is involved in heavy day -to -day labor like a nursing home caretaker moving an elderly patient from bed to chair and back many time a day - not to mention other tasks, such as bathing, toilet use etc. Work that takes its toll on the back, as well as many other parts of the anatomy.

Interestingly, nowhere in Feldstein's op-ed is there any mention of cutting the defense budget, despite the fact we have ample evidence it's one of the biggest yearly deficit engines, e.g. 

We also know that at $716 billion annually, the U.S. spends more on the military than the next 11 nations combined, That includes Russia and China. As one recent WSJ letter writer put it: "The Pentagon already has enough enough resources to keep America secure.":

The sad fact is that too many of the nation's seniors do not, yet those like Marty Feldstein would just as soon indoctrinate more Harvard economics students into a useless system that's also heartless.

Kids, if you're headed for the ivy halls of Harvard, pick astronomy to study, not econ from a Feldstein clone; adjunct, lackey or TA.  Your brain will thank you for it, so will millions of us on "entitlements"!

See also:


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